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Friday, Dec. 11, 2009

Developing countries' differences briefly suspend summit


Staff writer

COPENHAGEN — A document suggesting that developing countries should do more to combat global warming continued to dominate discussions Wednesday at the U.N. climate conference, where talks were briefly suspended after a controversy erupted among developing countries over what level of greenhouse gas emissions a new treaty should aim for.

News photo
Heating up: A delegate at the U.N. Climate summit in Copenhagen looks at a giant globe displaying the warming of the world's oceans in the U.S. pavilion on Wednesday. AP PHOTO

Debate also continued over the fundamentals of a post-Kyoto Protocol treaty, including which base year to use in calculating emissions reductions and when emissions should peak.

A text prepared by Denmark and leaked Tuesday afternoon was strongly condemned by the Group of 77 developing nations plus China. The document suggested developing countries commit to specific percentage reduction targets by 2020, except for a new category of less-developed countries titled the "most vulnerable."

Developing nations decried the text as an attempt to force them to assume a larger burden of emissions reductions than they can bear, are not legally obligated to undertake under the U.N. framework and are not historically responsible for. They also accused developed nations of trying to split the G77, which includes the world's poorest African countries as well as China, India and Brazil.

At a Wednesday afternoon news conference, Lumumba Stanislas Dia Pin, speaking for the G77 and China, called the Danish text unfortunate.

However, delegates from other developing country were relieved it had been leaked. Several said late Wednesday it will hopefully force everyone to negotiate more openly.

Differences between small island states threatened with rising sea levels and larger industrial developing nations like China, India and Brazil emerged Wednesday afternoon when Tuvalu called for an agreement to stabilize greenhouse gas emissions at 350 parts per million, rather than the 450 ppm target favored by developed nations and by major industrialized developing nations.

Talks were briefly suspended as Tuvalu and other developing nations worked to resolve the issue.

Scientists agree that a level of 350 ppm is the best chance of avoiding catastrophic climate damage. The current level of carbon dioxide in the Earth's atmosphere is 386 ppm.

Other discussions focused on which base year to use when calculating emissions reductions and the year global emissions should peak.

Although taking something of a back seat to percentage cuts and the amount of financing developing countries require to mitigate the effects of current climate change and adapt to inevitable environmental changes in the coming years, the base year issue directly relates to percentage cuts.

A 2007 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a body of 2,500 scientists worldwide who provide scientific data and recommendations to the United Nations, calculated that if developed nations reduce emissions by certain percentages over certain periods of time, the likelihood of irreversible climate change by the end of the century either rises or falls. But all of the potential scenarios assumed a base year of 1990, the same used for reduction commitments under the Kyoto Protocol.

Japan and the European Union are using 1990 as the base year for their announced emissions reduction targets, but the United States is using 2005. Other developed nations are using 2000 or 2002, while China and India have announced reduction plans based on 2005.

"There was discussion on whether or not one legally binding base year was necessary and there are lots of opinions as to whether one base year was necessary, or whether several might be included. Japan's position is that we have to have a base year acceptable to all developed countries," a Japanese official said Wednesday evening.

The issue of a peak year for emissions is even more controversial, with fundamental disagreements remaining over when global emissions should peak to ensure the Earth's average temperature does not exceed 2 degrees, the so-called tipping point for irreversible global warming.

Scientists say that to meet the 2-degree limit, emissions have to peak by 2015, but some countries, including the United States, insist that emissions can still peak later and ensure a rise of less than 2 degrees if certain actions are taken. While the issue was informally discussed Wednesday, it will not likely be finalized until senior ministers arrive next week.

"It's gratifying that the Group of Eight leaders have recognized the broad scientific view of limiting an increase of the global average temperature to two 2 degrees. But we have clearly specified that if the temperature increase is to be limited to between 2.0 and 2.4 degrees, global emissions must peak by no later than 2015. That's barely six years from now," said Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.



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